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The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson’s is Bringing About Parkinson’s Diagnosis Changes

Female Support Worker Visits Senior Man At Home
Diagnosing Parkinson’s by its smell may soon be the new way to catch it early.

You might not recognize her by name, but you’ve probably come across her story. Joy Milne has an extremely specialized talent: recognizing Parkinson’s disease through her sense of smell. Her talent was discovered when she sensed what she describes as an “overpowering sort of nasty yeast smell” in her husband of ten years. Subsequently observing other differences in her husband, for example, mood and personality shifts, he eventually went in for medical attention, and was given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

Later, upon going in to a Parkinson’s support group meeting, that same scent permeated the room – despite the fact that reportedly only Joy Milne was able to detect it. As a matter of fact, she was also able to pick up on varied degrees of the smell – some whose odor was weak, while for other people, it was much stronger. With both her own and her husband’s medical backgrounds (she a nurse and he a doctor), this finding was clearly significant and warranted additional action.

Her story led her to help Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson’s disease researcher at the University of Edinburgh, with the goal of developing an instrument to offer earlier Parkinson’s diagnosis – and ultimately, treatment.

While initially skeptical of the likelihood of Parkinson’s being found through scent, he was open to additional investigation after learning about the results dogs were having in picking up on the odor of cancer in individuals. He then formulated a way to test her abilities, by supplying her with a random assortment of t-shirts – fifty percent which had been worn by someone clinically diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and half by those without the disease – and, her accuracy rate was remarkable. In fact, she missed the mark on just one of the shirts, worn by someone without Parkinson’s, but who in fact was later determined to have the disease as well.

Kunath says, “Imagine a society where you could detect such a devastating condition before it’s causing problems and then prevent the problems from even occurring.” Dr. Thomas Hummel of the Technical University of Dresden’s Smell & Taste Clinic, said that although the idea is fascinating, there are still quite a few questions to first resolve.

Parkinson’s disease, in addition to a number of other chronic health conditions, can be more effectively managed through the help of a home care provider like Relevar Home Care. Give Relevar’s experts in Macomb county senior care call at 1-888-493-3513 to learn more. We also provide care for adults of any age in Wayne, St. Clair and Macomb counties.